- Devonta Freeman is done for the season, leaving opportunity in Atlanta and his fantasy owners scrambling.
It was already shaping up to be a lost season for Devonta Freeman, and now it is officially one he will want to forget as soon as possible. The Falcons on Tuesday placed the fifth-year back on IR due to a groin injury that will require surgery. It was Freeman’s third different injury of the season, after he previously missed time with ankle and foot injuries.
From a fantasy perspective, the big winner here is Tevin Coleman. He’s now entrenched as the starter in a lucrative Atlanta offense that’s tied to what has been a terrible defense, and has spent his entire career proving his pass-catching bona fides. He won’t have the backfield to himself, but he has legitimate RB1 potential the rest of the season, and should be, at worst, a top-20 back from Week 7 through the end of the year.
Of course, there’s no move to be made with respect to Coleman. He’s owned across the board, and no one who has held him to this point is trying to trade him now. Ito Smith now becomes an intriguing player on the waiver wire, no matter if you were previously invested in Freeman. Smith has mixed in with Coleman in the games Freeman missed, totaling 97 yards and three touchdowns on 35 carries in those four contests. He has had a snap rate of 33.2% in those games, compared with Coleman’s 65.7%. Notably, they played nearly the same amount of snaps in Week 6, with Coleman on the field for 38 of Atlanta’s 67 plays, and Smith out there for 31 snaps.
While Smith should be on the waiver-wire radar in all competitive leagues, this is not a break-the-bank situation. First of all, Coleman is clearly in command of the backfield. The fourth-year player out of Indiana entered this season with consecutive seasons with at least 900 yards from scrimmage, 25 receptions and eight touchdowns. Coleman is a known quantity who has earned the trust of Matt Ryan, Dan Quinn and Steve Sarkisian (and Kyle Shanahan before him, but that is neither here nor there). It’d be a surprise if Coleman handled anything less than 65% of the touches out of Atlanta’s backfield.
Secondly, Smith has carved out a role for himself, but he hasn’t distinguished himself doing so. He has rushed for 3.2 yards per carry this season, and while he did post one solid receiving line—three catches for 41 yards against the Saints—he has seven grabs for 25 yards in his five other games. Smith has made a bit of a name for himself in diehard fantasy circles, but he has done so largely by fidning the end zone the last three weeks. In that same time, he has 62 yards on 21 carries, hardly the stuff of league-winning material. Smith is worth a claim in all leagues, but don’t expect him to be anything more than a depth back.
If you are a previous Freeman owner who does not also roster Coleman and is looking for a pivot off of Smith, here are your best options.
The no-brainer option: Marlon Mack, RB, Colts
Mack returned in Week 6 for his first game in a month, and second game of the season, spending the majority of the early going on the sidelines because of a hamstring injury. He instantly gave the Indianapolis run game a shot of life, racking up 89 yards on 12 carries in the 42-34 loss to the Jets. Nyheim Hines ran it just three times for 14 yards, while Jordan Wilkins didn’t get a touch, despite being active. It’s safe to say that Mack is back atop the depth chart in Indianapolis, a likelihood that too many fantasy owners have ignored in recent weeks. There’s no way Mack should have been available in more than 70% of leagues across the main sites, but that was his reality heading into Week 6. It’s safe to say that won’t be the case going into Week 7. Mack should be your top priority on the waiver wire this week, and that includes Smith.
The fallback option: Frank Gore, RB, Dolphins
Gore once again led the Miami backfield, and looked great doing it, running for 101 yards on 15 carries in the team’s 31-28 overtime win over Chicago in Week 6. Additionally, Kenyan Drake lost what was nearly a back-breaking fumble, coughing it up on the 1-yard line in overtime, where a touchdown would’ve won the game for the Dolphins and precluded the need for a last-second field goal by Jason Sanders. Other than the fumble, Drake actually did well with his workload, turning 17 touches into 78 yards from scrimmage, but his performance once again paled in comparison to Gore’s. The veteran may not be a true workhorse, but he’s clearly at the head of Miami’s backfield committee, and has proved himself capable of translating that role into meaningful fantasy production. It’s a fact the fantasy community can no longer ignore.
The boom-or-bust option: D’Onta Foreman, RB, Texans
Houston’s backs in Week 6 failed to live up to their end of the bargain—again—and that nearly cost the team in a hard-fought 20-13 win over the Bills. Lamar Miller ran for 46 yards on 15 carries while Alfred Blue picked up 26 yards on seven totes. We’ve been discussing Foreman’s impending return from a ruptured Achilles for weeks. It was originally scheduled for this week, but may not happen until Week 8. No matter when it arrives, he’s going to get his chance to bring some much-needed production to a rushing attack that has been listless this season. Miller has fallen short of expectations for the third straight season in Houston, totaling 271 yards on 73 carries while still searching for his first touchdown on the ground. Blue, meanwhile, is nothing more than a backup. Foreman is capable of leading a backfield, something he was starting to do last season before rupturing his Achilles in November. In his last game before suffering the injury, he ran for 65 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries. It may not be until Week 8 or 9 that Foreman provides returns, which makes him a better target owners who just lost Freeman that are near the top of the standings, but he could be a second-half star.